PROLOGUE: What the Letter to the Hebrews is Really All About

THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS is a beautifully constructed collection of truths and principles, written around thirty years after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ and about seven years before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. (It would be helpful to have the text of that Letter in front of you as we work our way through this article). Written primarily for disciples of Christ who had formerly been Jews, it is a solidly reasoned presentation of the superiority in every way of Christ as the ‘High Priest’ of the new covenant over all the attributes of the old covenant. (Incidentally, although at one time, I had believed that the apostle Paul was the author of this letter, I later came to realise that it was most likely someone who had absorbed Paul’s theology — maybe even an amanuensis of his — who had an even better grasp of Greek and literary presentation).

It seems that some of the community of the formerly-Jewish faithful at that time (around AD 64) were wavering in their faith as a result of the oppression and persecution they received from the Jews, who regarded formerly-Jewish followers of Christ as apostate and worthy of ill-treatment. However, the reality is that far from being apostate, those Jews who realised that Christ is the long-awaited Messiah had fulfilled Divine law and could therefore be called ‘completed Jews’ and disciples of Christ the Messiah. Because of the viciousness of the persecution of the formerly-Jewish followers of Christ by the Jews, a number were showing signs not merely of backsliding into some Jewish practice (all of which had been fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ) but also of apostatising from the faith completely. (A detailed explanation of the word “apostasy” is coming up below).

As the consequence of the above, the entire Letter to the Hebrews is really about an appeal for spiritual maturity and a warning against the apostasy which loomed over them if they did not mature. Throughout the letter, after giving some solid teaching about Christ (which would, of course, make all the Jews see red), readers are either told to move on to a state of maturity or to beware of falling into apostasy. That is the stark choice. Here is an example:

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain, because you are dull of hearing. Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to reteach you the basic principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food! For everyone who lives on milk is still an infant, inexperienced in the message of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained their senses to distinguish good from evil.

Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 5, verses 11-14

They had reached the stage by which they should have a solid understanding about who Christ is and be receiving the solid teaching which facilitates that. Yet, like infants, they had not even been weaned off the milk stage of teaching! (Does that sound familiar?). That “solid food” has an immensely beneficial effect on those receiving it. Above all, it is said (as you can see above) to “train their senses to distinguish good from evil”. That is the gift of discernment right there. Those who do not avail themselves of the solid food type of teaching will flounder in so many areas — but above all they will be naïve and easy pickings for the forces of darkness, and thereby be more susceptible to backslide from the faith or even to fall away. When should one progress from milk onto solid food? Really, as soon as it is spiritually possible! So, the writer follows up the above by saying: “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity” (chapter 6, verse 1). So let us also now get into the deep stuff! Isn’t that what true disciples love?

1.  Can a Genuine Disciple of Christ Apostatize (Fall Away from the Faith)?

A few verses after that, the letter states one of the most terrible (and also most misunderstood) realities of the spiritual life:

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age—and then have fallen away—to be restored to repentance, because they themselves are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to open shame”.

Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 6, verses 4-6

Many read this text and assume that it implies that genuine disciples of Christ can fall away from the faith and apostatise. It does not at all imply that, and it cannot. It cannot because one sacred text cannot contradict another. Christ Himself emphatically said that no one can snatch His sheep out of His hand or out of His Father’s hand and also adding that “they will never perish” (Gospel of John, chapter 10, verses 27-30). Once they are truly His sheep (disciples), then it cannot be undone. They may shrink back somewhat in a rough period; but they cannot finally fall away completely. They will always persevere, if they are genuine disciples, and they will find that God will have used the rough period as a form of education (chastisement, see Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 4-11). As He said elsewhere: “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that I shall lose none of those He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day” (Gospel of John, chapter 6, verse 39). That is God’s will plainly stated. So, if genuine disciples of Christ, His true sheep, cannot finally fall away, then what can those verses from Hebrews, chapter 6, possibly mean?

Firstly, those verses (please compare them here) plainly reveal the tremendous privilege of even being part of the visible church and having received the word about Christ and responded to it, even if one is not genuinely a disciple of Christ. For, even if you are not a genuine disciple but you have merely latched onto the church and think you are one, you have still “been enlightened” — that is, you have received the light of truth about Christ and responded to it in some way, though not all the way, and therefore that light has not properly been applied. You have still “tasted the heavenly gift” — had a taste of the church, which is “the suburbs of heaven”, and had a taste of closeness to God’s people, and seen what He can do. You have still “shared in the Holy Spirit” through all the benefits of being around those who have the Spirit, though you do not have the Holy Spirit indwelling you personally. You have “tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age” — though it was just a taste and none of that was properly applied to you. This is what happens when you place yourself in the company of the faithful, even if you are not yet truly transformed yourself.

It is an enormous spiritual privilege even to be part of the visible church and to have the knowledge/fellowship which it potentially brings. But to then turn your back permanently on all that (which a genuine disciple could never do, for no one can snatch them out of Christ’s hand), just goes to show that your being part of the visible church was just an exterior experience (phase or fad) and not an interior transformation (metanoia). Thus, the above text cannot refer to genuine disciples of Christ who have become a new creation but rather it refers to those who are part of the visible church through a profession of faith but it is superficial and they have not genuinely been transformed. Those who have deluded themselves into thinking that they are disciples but who later “fall away” should remind us of a section in the parable of the sower when Jesus referred to “one who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he remains for only a season. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 13, verses 20-21). That is the key: When trouble or persecution comes. He received the word with joy, “at once”. Just like that. But it wasn’t real. It didn’t run deep. So as soon as the going got rough, he fell away (apostatised). He had not become a real disciple but was just someone who had an emotional experience simulating spirituality (which, unfortunately, one sees a great deal in many churches in which Jesus is sold like soap flakes in ‘altar-calls’ and very superficial evangelism). That ‘trouble or persecution’ will be the litmus test for true or false discipleship. So many professing “Christians” go on about how much “the Lord blesses me”. But what about when he allows you to be persecuted or even tortured by evil authorities? Will you “shrink back”, as some had done to whom the writer of this Letter to the Hebrews is addressing his words? This is the great revealer as to whether one’s faith is real or just a passing fad.

Concerning those who engage in this kind of apostasy, the writer says in the text above that “it is impossible… to be restored to repentance”. They will have passed the point of no return; a truly chilling thought. It is one thing to live in complete ignorance; but once one has received all the information about Christ — even shared in His assembly — and then rejected Him, then one will be doubly condemned. As Christ said concerning those ‘worldlings’ who hated Him because of His dynamic ministry: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin” (Gospel of John, chapter 15, verse 22). This is why the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews states: “If we deliberately go on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins remains, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume all adversaries” (chapter 10, verses 26-27). It is that ‘receiving of the knowledge of the truth’ which is key. Once that knowledge has been received, the scene is set for culpability if one ignores it, and especially if one falls away into apostasy. Now, you might be thinking, at this point, “what exactly is apostasy?” So here is a little Excursus to explain it:

2.  Excursus on the Meaning of Apostasy

The second coming of Christ (also known as “the day of the Lord”) will not happen “until the apostasy shall have come first, and the man of lawlessness shall have been revealed” (Second Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 3). Jesus also referred to this global apostasy when He said: “Many false prophets will arise and mislead many. Because of the multiplication of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 11-12). This apostasy to which Christ and Paul were referring is not a mere falling away from the faith by the previously faithful (i.e. a purely religious apostasy). It is an all-out revolt against natural and Divine law — a mass global rebellion against God the Creator by the created; their increasingly insistent denial that the Christ had come in the flesh, and the resultant hubristic promotion of the self. In other words, what this great apostasy entails is the pervasive cancer of egocentrism and narcissism — the putting of oneself on a pedestal and a revelling in one’s imagined autonomy and delusional independence from one’s Creator — the development of a hatred towards the very idea of a Creator, with all that follows on from that. Paul put it like this in one of his other letters:

“But understand this: In the last days terrible times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, without love of good, traitorous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power”.

Second Letter to Timothy, chapter 3, verses 1-5

That is apostasy perfectly described, at least in part. And that was referring to the entire span of this age, as the phrase, “the last days”, refers to the whole period from the ascension of Christ to the time of the end of the age, as I showed in a recent article, entitled “Are we Living in the Endtimes?” The whole idea of ‘apostasy’ is of serious significance in the moral and spiritual life of humanity. It means an abandonment of faithful allegiance to something, or the renunciation of moral principles, or a complete betrayal of religious or spiritual affiliation. Alternative expressions would be ‘falling away’ or ‘utter rebellion’. To apostatize represents a disintegration of moral and spiritual principles into godless betrayal, dissolution, debauchery, degeneracy or licentiousness. All of these lawless elements will progressively burgeon as this evil age progresses — as we can clearly see all around us even now — culminating in the revealing of the “man of lawlessness”, the Antichrist (see Second Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 3).

There is individual apostasy, in which people pursue their selfish goals without a thought for their Creator — although “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that people are without excuse” (Letter to the Romans, chapter 1, verse 20). One personally apostatises, therefore, when one ignores that witness about God through His creation and in one’s own heart. But there is also mass apostasy energized by the “spirit of the Antichrist”. Although operating in the world to a greater or lesser degree throughout this entire age, the magnification of this apostasy is a sign which gathers steam in intensity as the end of the age draws near, coming to a frantic climax of rebellion and lawlessness. We are in the midst of that great apostasy right now, as we watch the world descend into depravity and rebellion against God’s law. It is all around us, gathering apace as the end of this age draws near.

By “lawlessness”, I am not so much referring to going against human laws (although that is certainly part of it), but rather of rabidly opposing Divine law and the universal moral law (natural law) which is inscribed within the essence of every human being by creation and which is known universally, even though it is suppressed by hardened hearts and blinded minds, partly as a result of satanic operations (see Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 4; see also Gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 12). This is why the Antichrist is referred to as the “man of lawlessness”, for he will be the apex of human lawlessness and apostasy. Those who revel in their rebellion against the Divine can only alienate themselves from the fulness of life and thereby increasingly gravitate into a downward spiral of darkness and enslavement to demonic entities. This process of human degeneration away from the inner knowledge of God can be clearly seen in the Letter to the Romans, chapter 1, verses 18-32. Indeed, an all-pervasive, unprecedented moral darkness of hideous depth across the entire face of this earth is precisely what will characterize the absolute end of this age, just prior to the revealing of the Antichrist and also during his brief reign.

Such apostasy is like a kind of mass psychosis in which people not only buy into Satan’s world-system as if jumping into bed with a prostitute, but they also prostitute themselves, selling their souls to the prince of darkness. One sees an inkling of that during periods of terrible persecution in which swathes of populations join in. The widespread hysterical torture and burning of female healers as witches in the USA and elsewhere, dictatorial pogroms against minority groups — e.g. in the communist USSR under Stalin, Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, Cambodia under Pol Pot, and the recruitment of masses of ‘citizen spies’ by the Stasi in East Germany. But all of those instances are nothing compared to how it will be when the Antichrist is revealed as the end of this present evil age approaches and the vast majority will jump on board, imagining him to be their saviour. Such is the pulling-power of apostasy. It is like a mania running through a godless population.

Apostasy also has deeply serious consequences — more serious than anything else one can imagine. Immediately after verse 25 in our text, the following verses give a damning testimony about those consequences:

“If we deliberately go on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins remains, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume all adversaries. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think one deserves to be punished who has trampled on the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people’. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”.

Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 6, verses 26-31

It is this level of apostasy which the writer of this Letter is wanting to prevent. Now we return from this brief Excursus on apostasy to the main text of our exposition…

3.  Special Consideration for One Particular Verse in Our Text

So, throughout this letter, the writer is continually warning about apostasy in the face of knowledge received and blessings experienced. There were some who were indeed shrinking back because of persecution from the Jews and our text in Hebrews, chapter 10 reveals that. Although I am concerned with the whole passage from verse 19 to verse 39 in this tenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, because of the cavalier and cultish manner in which verse 25 has been interpreted and wrenched out of its context I am especially interested in focusing on that verse and the manner in which it has been taken out of that context, and why. Here it is: “Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching”. How often I have seen that verse isolated from its context and hurled in people’s faces if they even fail to go to church for one single Sunday or two! Merely to apply those verses to trooping along to ‘church services’ on a Sunday represents a completely inadequate vision of a life of fellowship in Christ, as well as a total misunderstanding of that verse in its context. It tells us much about those who insist on such an interpretation (which I will open up below). The realm of the disciple is not supposed to be a cult; yet to see the way that people treat Sunday church services as the be-all-and-end-all of the spiritual life, you would think that it was the most pernicious cult of all, especially when, in most cases, there is very little in those services which would truly enhance one’s spiritual life and growth — often just consisting of a load of soppy, repetitive choruses in CCM style and a lukewarm ‘message’ to dull the minds of the hearers. (Even the very word, ‘message’, is a weak, castrated description of the kind of teaching, exhortation, proclamation which should be happening in an assembly of Christ’s disciples!).

Everything from verse 19 onward in this tenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews is related to, and building up towards, the climax which is in verse 39: “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls”. For this 21-verse section — in keeping with the rest of the letter — is above all about the danger of apostasy and how to avoid it. That 39th verse is a mirror of what Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verse 13: “The one who perseveres to the end will be saved”, and what Jude said in his letter, verses 17-22. To pull one verse out of Hebrews, chapter 10, and make it into a Divine regulation for compulsory church attendance is one of the biggest examples of playing fast and loose with the sacred texts that I have ever come across. There are many who appear to put it almost on the same footing as the Ten Commandments, as they thunder at you: “THE LORD SAYS, ‘DO NOT FORSAKE THE ASSEMBLING OF YOURSELVES TOGETHER!’” If I had a dollar for the number of times this verse has been hurled at me to try and make me ‘go to church’ every Sunday, I would be a rich man! How has this come about? What could be the motivations for such a cavalier approach? Let us go into this more deeply…

When the formerly-Jewish Christians (to whom this letter was originally written) received those words “Let us not neglect meeting together”, it was not meant as a rigid command for them to “go to church, or else!” It was not even written as a rigid command but as a loving appeal. It was not ‘thundered’ at them as if being a voice out of the clouds on Mount Sinai. The context was plainly about being rescued from apostasy, as can be seen from the previous verse and from the few verses following (Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10, verses 23 & 26-31). But the folks who want to guilt-trip you into ‘going to church’ are very good at lifting single verses to suit their own agenda. That verse was not referring to those who had merely ‘failed to attend church’ but to those who were abandoning the faith altogether because they were afraid of the persecution which it brought on them from the Jews and the world as a result of associating with the company of the faithful. That is why it says in the final verse of the chapter, “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls”. In other words, this section is all about encouragement to attain maturity and avoid apostasy rather than condemnation. Thus, right after having said “Let us not neglect meeting together”, verse 25 also speaks clearly about “encouraging one another”. The meeting together is for mutual encouragement. That is the all-important element.

So this entire section in the book is not a Divine commandment to ‘go to church or else’ but an appeal to do all those things which encourage us and prevent us from fear and cowardice in the face of persecution for our faith in Christ. We tend to forget just how damning it is to be cowardly — a word which should really have no place in the life of the disciple of Christ. In the Book of Revelation, chapter 21, verse 8, the “cowardly” are one of the classes of people (right alongside liars, the sexually immoral, murderers and sorcerers!) who will end up in the metaphorical “lake of fire and brimstone” and who will undergo “the second death”.

So cowardice can have no place in the life of the genuine disciple of Christ. It begins as fear, which makes one “shrink back”, and ends as apostasy. Nevertheless, fear or apprehension can understandably occur even in the minds of the faithful. Even Jesus, in His human nature, was apprehensive about His upcoming dreadful ordeal at the hands of the authorities and the massed oppression from all the forces of darkness, human and discarnate (see the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 26, verses 37-42; Gospel of Luke, chapter 22, verses 41-44). Such apprehension is understandable and the Lord will provide ways of encouragement for those of His people who are so afflicted. But if one faithlessly over-indulges fear, it can turn into cowardice which, if not checked, begins a downward spiral towards the fringes of apostasy. This is why our text says, “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed”. If we are faithful disciples, we are definitely not “of those”. So, in verses 32-34, the readers of the letter are given an important reminder about their former joyful faithfulness and courage:

“Remember the early days that you were in the light. In those days, you endured a great conflict in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to ridicule and persecution; at other times you were partners with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you yourselves had a better and permanent possession”.

Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 6, verses 32-34

It is clear that some of those formerly Jewish disciples of Christ were avoiding associating with their fellow disciples because they were afraid of the repercussions from the Jews in their neighbourhood through being linked with the name of Christ. So they are reminded with how at one time early in the days when they were first “in the light” or ‘enlightened’ — having been illuminated (the Greek word there is φωτισθέντες, phōtisthentes) with the truth about the Christ — they had experienced awful persecutions and even had their property impounded. Yet the faithful joyfully accepted all that, and imprisonment too, because they knew that what they possessed in Christ is infinitely more important and significant — “knowing that you yourselves had a better and permanent possession”.

Thus, in the verses of our text in this Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10, the recipients of this letter were being lovingly reminded of the things which are important for encouragement in the life of the disciple of Christ, such as “the new and living way opened for us” (verse 20), the priesthood of Christ and His atoning sacrifice (verses 21-22), the hope we have in Him who is faithful in His promises (verse 23), the spurring “of one another on to love and good deeds” (verse 24), fruitful association with fellow disciples (verse 25), mutual encouragement (verse 25), maintaining confidence in our faith (verse 35) and perseverance/endurance (verse 36). We are also given the example of Christ’s perseverance to encourage us:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”.

Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 2-3

Thus, the contentious verse 25 is but one little part of a whole realm of commendations as to what can encourage the disciple of Christ and bring him or her into a deeper maturity and thus well-buttressed against any possible backsliding or apostasy. In relation to this verse, I have often seen it said that “The Christian is commanded by God to attend public worship every Sabbath”. First, there was no such thing as “public worship” when the Letter to the Hebrews was written. Churches as we know them today did not happen until the third century AD as a more centralised religious control began to be wielded in the Christian scene. Prior to that, disciples met informally in each other’s homes. The fellowship was spontaneous and there was a ‘common purse’ so that less fortunate disciples could be helped financially. Second, in the original template of the life of the faithful, there was no such thing as Divinely-decreed attendance of church. Aside from the fact that “churches” as actual buildings separate from home residences did not start happening until the third century, an authoritarian compulsion to meet in homes had no place. Forcible attendance of church by the government in the UK was tried in the seventeenth century and beyond. Today, there is no end to the number of people calling themselves “Christian” who look back to those as ‘the glory-days’. For pews were full and the whole community was ‘under church discipline’. Perfect result for control-freaks! But commanding disciples to meet together was not part of the original life of the Ekklesia. For Christ did not come to start a religion but a network of disciples who would meet together voluntarily and joyfully as a means of encouragement and collective devotion.

So many seem to want to impose rules and regulations while developing authoritarian structures to force conformity to man-made norms. That is what lies behind this misapplication of Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 25. Control. Religious apparatchiks do not like anyone to be out of their control. When one views God merely as some rigid tyrant in the heavens, that is going to determine the way one interprets the sacred texts and how one lives one’s life. But exhorting (not commanding) disciples ‘not to neglect meeting together’ is a way of emphasising that backsliding and apostasy are far less likely to take hold of an individual when that individual is in fellowship with others rather than hiding away from such fellowship because of fear of persecution. That is the real context in our sacred text. Such fellowship is not confined to the attendance of a church. In fact, I have often had more fruitful and genuinely loving fellowship when meeting up with disciples in their homes (or even [perish the thought!] on the internet!) than in a formal church setting.

Usually, there are profound reasons why disciples would not want to be with fellow disciples and they therefore need counsel rather than commandments. The role of elders in any ecclesiastical setting is not to guilt-trip people into ‘attending church’, for enforced attendance is not from the heart. There is nothing instantly magical about a local ‘church’. Being forced to attend is not conducive to healthy development. The Ekklesia as a whole is supposed to be ‘the suburbs of heaven’ for disciples of Christ. That is certainly true about the true Church, the body of Christ. But it is sadly not true about all local representations of the Ekklesia. The truth is that a genuine disciple of Christ has no need to be coerced into ‘going to church’, for a genuine disciple loves to be in the company of other disciples. Such fellowship is precious and s/he will find it one way or another.

These days, the usual way to find it is by going along to an actual church building on a Sunday. But that is not the only way. Going to a church is the easiest way. But what if someone has had a bad experience in one or more local churches (which is very likely given the state of many of today’s churches)? What if they have been spiritually abused (or their offspring sexually abused in the case of denominational churches)? What if someone has seen through the false teaching and practices of his or her local church (which is very likely given the state of many of today’s churches)?  What if there is no loving, faithful local church within travelling distance? Are you going to browbeat such people into church attendance by thundering Hebrews 10:25 at them?

4. The Basic Rules of Good Bible Interpretation

The “Go to church or else!” interpretation of Hebrews 10:25 is simply bad Bible hermeneutics (interpretation). The basic rules for good Bible interpretation are as follows:

1) Always pray for enlightenment about the text.

2) Always ensure that the Hebrew or Greek text under consideration has been properly and faithfully translated.

3) Always interpret the text in, and according to, its surrounding verbal context (exegesis) rather than plucking it out of its context in order to make it fit into some personal preconceived ideas (eisegesis).

4) Always take into account the historical or social background of the text;

5) Always interpret the text in such a way that it does not contradict any truths in other Bible texts.

If you always apply the above rules to your interpretation of Bible texts, then you will not err in that interpretation (and you will also thankfully avoid starting a sect or a cult!).

5.  The Pastoral Context & the Necessary ‘Embership’

Many have failed to grasp that there is a pastoral context to this verse 25 of our text. The natural desire of the faithful disciple of Christ is to be in the company of other disciples. There is some truth to the old image of how an ember (glowing piece of wood or coal) in a fireplace burns more brightly when in the company of other embers. But we are now living in the days when probably the majority (i.e. at least more than 50%) of local assemblies of professing Christians do not provide the necessary ‘embership’ required by genuine disciples of Christ. A local assembly of professing Christians may have a large membership but it may not have the necessary ‘embership’ for genuine disciples to desire to be part of it! It is not church membership which real disciples need… it is church ‘embership’. If you can find a local gathering of disciples whose embers burn with passion for truth, with courage and love, then you have won a great prize which is increasingly less available today. The startlingly interesting thing is that the embers of people who have been spiritually abused in churches only begin to ‘glow’ again after they had stopped going to church! They only began to regain their equilibrium when they tore themselves away from the ‘heavy shepherding’ churches which had maligned them and damaged their spiritual integrity, or from the churches which had filled their heads with wacky teachings and demonic practices. They only began to realise how much God really cares for them when they removed themselves (or in some cases were forcibly removed!) from the churches which had tried so hard to crush every last ounce of their God-given incisive minds and individuality.

“Meeting together” these days has come to take on different meanings apart from keeping pews warm in a church building. Some people have to find their fellowship (“meeting together”) on the internet. Others just meet in homes with others in their area who have also had enough of the ‘heavy shepherding’ or false teaching in formally organised churches. There is a vast number who live like this. I am in touch with many of them. Thus, they are not “neglecting meeting together” (verse 25) and are thus fulfilling the appeal of that verse. They have not shied away from meeting with other disciples but only from ‘going to church’. Thus, they are still ‘meeting together’. They do not back off from ‘going to church’ because they are afraid or because they are apostatising but because they do not want to be in co-dependent submission to an authoritarian or wayward assembly of professing ‘Christians’. They are first and foremost disciples of Christ and do not subscribe to mere ‘churchianity’. In an article some twenty years ago, I referred to such folks as “The New Diaspora” — scattered sheep who have been wounded or appalled by local churches they have attended and expect something better. Essentially, the visible church, in large measure, has become part of the great apostasy and is therefore something from which one should ‘shrink back’ rather than be forced to be involved with by trigger-happy pastors with a control-freak mentality!

6.  Individuality vs Individualism

An accusation which is likely to be made in the wake of this article is that I am “encouraging isolationism and individualism”. The problem is that what people often disparagingly call ‘isolationism’ is for many ‘recuperationism’ for those who went to a church and were traumatised by spiritual abuse. It takes a very wise man to be an elder in a church. Such wisdom is thin on the ground; which is why so many churches are out of kilter and why so many do not want to ‘go to a church’ which is dominated by someone less wise or less compassionate than they are. If your son or daughter had just come out of a really bad and abusive marriage, would you try and force them immediately into another one and with anyone? And if they had been abused in one marriage after another, and felt that they didn’t want to be married again, would you start thundering at them about the evils of spinsterhood or being ‘single’? Of course not. So why do people — in such a threatening manner — force those who have been abused in a church to start immediately attending another church? That is just so cultish, not to mention insensitive. Hurt people who do not ‘go to church’ are not ‘isolationists’, as they are often falsely accused, but ‘recuperationists’. They need time to convalesce. It may take weeks or months, or it may even take years — in some extreme instances, it might take decades. Only a completely insensitive character would fail to recognise this. Recently, someone told me that they had tried to go to a church after having been traumatised in one twenty-two years earlier and only now had they summoned up the courage to do so and they were shaking as they entered the building. There is a pastoral dimension here which seems to completely evade the understanding of far too many professing ‘Christians’ who have no regard to the reality of PTSD (what I call Post-Traumatic Spiritual Disorder) in these circumstances.

A common accusation in many churches of anyone who thinks imaginatively, or who dresses differently, or who is somewhat ‘bohemian’, or who presents themselves differently, or does not ‘go to church’, is that they are showing signs of individualism. They say that the scourge of the church is ‘individualism’ (I have heard this said many times), and that I am aiding and abetting this scourge by propping up the ‘individualists’ with what I write. It seems that many confuse individualism with individuality. Folks need to understand the important difference between ‘individualism’ and ‘individuality’. Individualism means that someone puts his or her own ego above all other considerations, whereas individuality means that s/he simply exercises his or her God-given abilities, talents, idiosyncrasies and discernment. Our individuality comes from our Creator. If that then becomes “individual-ism”, then we are making an idol out of ourselves. However, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with being an individual. We were created as individuals and given an individuality for a reason: because we have individual goals to achieve and individual functions to achieve them. Unfortunately, most people use their individuality to exalt themselves and their milieu. A disciple of Christ uses his or her individuality for the glory of God. Any organisation which seeks to quash that individuality and encourage blind conformity has already become a cult. Sadly, many churches, under the guise of preventing ‘individualism’, wind up crushing the uniqueness and individuality of so many of those in their fellowships that they then become mini-cults. We must never confuse egocentric individualism with healthy, natural, God-given individuality.

7.  What About Worship?

You may say, “But what about the worship? Aren’t we commanded to worship God?” The true disciple of Christ needs no command to worship God. Neither does he or she need a decree to spend an hour or two on one day of the week engaging in rote-fashion stand-up/sit-down ‘worship’ (known colloquially as a “hymn sandwich”), or to speak gobbledygook (so-called “tongues”), or to listen to a pep-talk from a pulpit about ‘how to live the abundant life’, or to be ‘slain in the spirit’ by a snake-oil huckster in a Gucci suit, or to be seduced by ‘bells and smells’ into imagining one has had a religious experience in a cathedral, and many more such masquerades. This is what people want to force you into attending! Let me remind you that the whole life of disciples of Christ IS worship. Everything that they do is dedicated to their Creator and is a memorial to the Christ who is our intermediary to God. (See my article, “Reflections on the Real Meaning of Worship”).They do not need any kind of priestcraft-wielding overlord in a suit and tie or cassock or crazy headdress — whether Catholic or Protestant — to be ‘vicar of Christ’ for them. So long as they are in worshipful fellowship with other disciples — including in a lovely local assembly which has healthy teaching at its core — then that is a great start and a fulfilment of verse 25 in our text.

So, the writer to the Hebrews rightly encourages his readers to not neglect meeting together. Therefore, instead of thundering at disciples who are wary of ‘going to church’ for valid reasons, we should (in the spirit of our text in the Letter to the Hebrews) be getting alongside them, encouraging them, providing fellowship to/for them, giving them the tools they need so they will not “shrink back” from the life of a true disciple. That is the way forward; not hectoring people to fulfil a duty just because one wrongly thinks there is a rule about it.

8.  Meeting Together is Only Commendable if it is With True Disciples

This is a most important consideration. Guarding against apostasy will not be achieved by bludgeoning people into church attendance for its own sake, regardless of the church involved. ‘Meeting together’ is only commendable if it is with true disciples who are not pushing a fad, or supporting an authoritarian pastor, or maintaining a sect, or indulging in false or harmful teachings and practices. Meeting up with legalistic, or liberal, or loony ‘Christians’ is not really going to do them much good and certainly will not help them to avoid apostasy but will only compound their issues. It is most important to distinguish between the ‘Church Militant’ (the name traditionally given to the hidden body of disciples waging spiritual warfare in this evil world, what I call the Ekklesia) and the ‘visible’ church — that which publicly presents itself before the world, with all its false authority (the Vatican and other centres of denominational power, such as Canterbury), religious customs, theatrical outfits, rituals and manmade regulations. Do you seriously believe that the Ekklesia of Jesus Christ is truly represented by the global visible church today? That is just a delusion held by minds which cannot look beyond what can merely be seen with the eyes. The visible church today — by which I mean the public face of “church” which those who are not disciples observe through the media and on their high streets — is in large part a theatre of castration, compromise and corroboration with the satanic world-system, and is unfit to have any part in the counterculture which is what the ‘Church Militant’ should really be today. What people call “Christianity” should be the true and only counterculture in the midst of a world-system which the sacred texts clearly show to be under the power of Satan (First Letter of John, chapter 5, verse 19). If a local assembly of professing “Christians” is not part of that counterculture, then genuine disciples will not want to be part of it, and no hammering of them with Hebrews 10:25 is going to force them in there. I can guarantee that the writer of that letter would be horrified to discover that this verse of his is being so misused.

EPILOGUE: The New Diaspora of Disenfranchised Disciples

As I have written before, today there is what I call a ‘New Diaspora’, which represents these many scattered, disenfranchised disciples of Christ across the world who would not be seen dead in the compromised churches of today. The fat unpersecuted cats of today’s ‘Churchianity’ positively loathe the New Diaspora (actually, they are frightened of them). Rigidly legalistic and fundamentalist-style Christianistas despise the New Diaspora, surely because they are jealous of their liberty and because they cannot control them. Bishops, Archbishops and Popes vigorously condemn the New Diaspora because they will not succumb to their usurped authority and priestcraft and because they are living outside what has disturbingly come to be called ‘the means of grace’, as if grace is only dispensed by attendance in a church building rather than by the Holy Spirit Himself! Professing ‘Christians’ who nitpickingly put human confessions of faith above discipleship of Christ hate the New Diaspora because their manmade tramlines may be uprooted by them and shown to be anachronistic. Above all, this New Diaspora is despised because it is iconoclastic, truth-seeking and unwilling to be deceived. On the gigantic heap of ashes of the self-serving, narrowminded, condemnatory, wayward, authoritarian and even lunatic churches of today, alternatives involving “meeting together” need to be created.

Things are going to get very messy over the next few years and, indeed, already are. As the crap really starts to hit the fan, many people — especially genuinely spiritually-seeking folks who are a bit lost — will find that they are forced to ask the world and themselves some serious questions and then begin to see that stepping onto the spiritual pathway as a disciple of Christ is the only solution. As the crap really starts to hit the fan, the churches are also going to be faced with the dilemma of either continuing their allegiance to the corrupt world-system of “the spirit of the Antichrist” or leaving that behind to fearlessly declare their faithfulness to Christ in an increasingly Christ-hating world in which even their lives will be under threat. The two will no longer be compatible. After the Antichrist has been revealed and then destroyed, the sheep will be sorted out from the goats — the wheat from the darnel. Then the true ekklesia will be revealed, and the New Diaspora within it — even though unappreciated at the time — will be seen to have served its unique purpose as this evil age comes to a close, Christ returns triumphant and the great change of aeons can at last be fulfilled.

Now you are set to read through the entire Letter to the Hebrews. It is a magnificent presentation of high Christology, warning of apostasy and encouragement regarding how to avoid it, while showing how the Church (the true Church, the new Israel made up of former Jews and gentiles) has replaced the old Israel in God’s plan of redemption. (Click here to go to my book which gives more details about that replacement). Let us finish now with some final words of delight and wisdom from its pages:

“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace and not by foods of no value to those devoted to them”.

Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 13, verse 9

“Faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see”.

Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 1

“For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom, and storm; to a trumpet blast or to a voice that made its hearers beg that no further word be spoken… Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to myriads of angels in joyful assembly, to the congregation of the firstborn, enrolled in heaven”.

Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 18-19, 22-23

[Coming next, explanations of the Letter to the Romans, chapter 13, verses 1-5, and of the First Letter of John, chapter 4, verses 1-4. Both those texts are of great relevance now and need to be understood correctly]



© 2023, Alan Morrison / The Diakrisis Project. All Rights Reserved. 
[The copyright on my works is merely to protect them from any wanton plagiarism which could result in undesirable changes (as has actually happened!). Readers are free to reproduce my work, so long as it is in the same format and with the exact same content and its origin is acknowledged]